How About Harmonizing?

Learn how and where to effectively harmonize your music to give it a bit more of a flare.

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Have you ever sat down, wrote a song, played a melody, and thought to yourself, "This is good, but it needs to be spiced up"? I know I have. That little extra pizazz you're looking for is probably a little music lifesaver called harmonizing.

What Is Harmonizing?

Okay, okay, I'm sure most of you here already know what harmonizing is. But, I am here to educate, so for those of you who don't know, read closely. Harmonizing is playing a different set of notes on top of one set of notes to create what is called harmony. Now, harmony can be attained by experimenting with many different types of harmonization. Sorry, am I not clear enough? Don't worry, there's more.

What Harmony Sounds Good?

Well, there are many different types of intervals you can experiment with that will create good harmony with your original set of notes. What's an interval, you ask? An interval is the distance between two different notes. These intervals also have names. Here are a few common intervals you may or may not already know of:
  • Unison - This is the absolute easiest interval to remember. Let's just say you have another guitarist playing with you. For the other guitarist to play the set of notes you're playing using the unison interval, they should play exactly what you are playing. Simple, huh?
  • Minor Third - A minor third is just three semi-tones, or half-steps, above the root note. For instance, a minor third above an A would be a C.
  • Major Third - A major third is four semi-tones, or two whole steps, above the root note. Using A as an example again, the major third above would be a C#, or Db.
  • Perfect Fourth - A perfect fourth is five semi-tones above the root note. In most cases it will be on the same fret as your root note on the very next string. This makes it easy to play both notes at the same time. Sticking with A, the perfect fourth above would be a D.
  • Perfect Fifth - Also known as the "power chord", this interval is located seven semi [tones above the root note. It is very popular in almost all rock music. Using A once again, the perfect fifth above is an E.
  • Octave - The octave is twelve semi-tones above the root note. An octave is exactly the same note as your root, only transposed up to a higher pitch. So, obviously, the octave of an A would be another A. Okay, now that we've cleared that up, let's get on to actually harmonizing.

    Choosing Which Intervals To Use

    Well, this is easier said than done. Whichever intervals you want to use are completely up to you. Just don't get too crazy, for not all intervals sound good to harmonize with, especially depending on the key of your song. But, you can always use your knowledge of keys and intervals to your advantage. Let's say your song is in a minor key. Then it would be smart to use, say, minor thirds to harmonize with, right? Major intervals in a major key, you get the point. And never be afraid to switch around. Go from minor thirds to octaves, go from major thirds to perfect fifths... you never know what brilliant harmony you may produce.

    Where Do I Use Harmony?

    The brilliant thing about harmony is that is sounds great nearly anywhere. Your rhythm parts can be harmonized, your solos can be harmonized... you could have a song with absolutely no harmony except for the bridge. Maybe just the intro. Maybe just the outro. No matter where you harmonize, your listeners will never cringe at the effect, you simply can't go wrong with it! Alright, I know what you're thinking, and I'm way ahead of you there.

    What Songs Using Harmonizing Could I Practice To?

    Hey, before you get to actually writing harmony parts, you're going to want to know a few beforehand, right? I know how you feel. I think I can muster up a few songs to which you can "jam" and learn a few things.
  • A lot (and I stress this point; a lot) of Iron Maiden songs use harmonizing. If I may name a few, "Twilight Zone", "Die With Your Boots On", "The Trooper", "Aces High", "Flash Of The Blade", "Powerslave", and "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner"... and those are only a few!
  • "The Boys Are Back In Town" by Thin Lizzy. The little bits right after each chorus and the bridge all use harmonizing.
  • "Killer Queen" by Queen. The solo near the end has brilliant harmonizing. A great solo to practice to.
  • "Wherever I May Roam" by Metallica. The bridge is an excellent harmonizing part; it sounds great and is great practice, especially for beginners.
  • "Hangar 18" by Megadeth. The main riff is a great-sounding harmonizing riff; not only that, it can be easily done with just one guitarist, saving the hassle of trying to get both of you in perfect rhythm. Well, I'm sure there are more, but those are the only ones I can think of offhand. And there you have it. Hope you understand harmonizing a little better now. Keep in mind that in almost all cases you're going to need two guitarists; sorry, but that's just the way it is. Unless you're really, really good, a second guitarist is practically mandatory. I couldn't possibly tell you how long it took me to get down "The Boys Are Back in Town" by myself. Practice practice practice. Just remember that the only thing better than playing in harmony is listening to it.
  • 155 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      Scourge441
      I knock a star off for spelling it 'harmonizing' It should be spelt with an 's'. I appreciate you may be American, but we invented the language, and so you should spell it like we do. And if your English you have no excuse.
      I hate people like you. Base your rating on the content of the article, not the spelling of a word. 5 stars (I wish I could do 6 to make up for Powerslave's idiocy).
      amotesharei
      *shock* no In Flames in the recomendations!?
      skills96
      they have great harmonies, my guess is because almost everyone knows metallica and iron maiden. flames, not so much
      SingingSabre
      "Harmonize" is spelled correctly. No stars should have been deducted. I this this is one of the best written articles in a long time here! Thanks for writing it! I'd love to see a "Harmonizing Pt 2" involving more advanced harmonies and techniques.
      himurakenshin
      thank you elcapitanloco, i thought i was alone hear and just gave up thinking that everyone here on this site had no knowledge of theory.
      TheUltimateSin
      ^Well, you can go ahead and think that all you want but it won't make it true. Like I said above, if you don't like the article then ignore it and move on with your life, pending you have one at all.
      DownDark
      Killer Queen definately has a great solo. Isn't it possible to do vocal harmonies just like Queen?
      tragik
      Good article. Avenged Sevenfold are the best recent band for harmonies. Anything off of City of Evil has great harmonies, and that's every single song. Yes, it is possible to do vocal harmonies. I'm not sure of any examples, but I would know one if I heard it.
      BillieJoefan108
      CAN I SAY ALTHOUGH IT SHOULD NOT HAVE AFFECTED THE RATING OF THIS ARTICLE, WHAT IS THE NAME OF "YOUR" LANGUAGE, ENGLISH! SO STOP SPELLING OUR F*CKING WORDS WRONG!
      gimme_fuel_89
      Yeah, great article, I previously didn't know the fundamentals of harmonizing, and now I do, so I can build on it. Btw, the master of puppets interlude would've been a great example.
      SethMegadefan
      ^Hey, I really do respect your opinion on my article, but do you really have to call everyone else idiots who voted like they did?
      TheUltimateSin
      elcapitanloco: 1 star. (but thanks to the scores of idiots who voted it 5, my vote has practically no impact)
      Hey, people are entitled to whtaever opinion they want. If they want to vote 5 stars, then they obviously liked it and thought it was helpful. But people like you, who don't like it, do nothing but whine and complain about how "useless" it was. Guess what, if you don't like it, don't bother with it. Disacknowledge it completely and move on with life.
      TheUltimateSin
      Dude, you're missing the part about beginners. They don't get into advanced stuff at that level, and they don't know what seems like common sense to people who already know this stuff. I didn't know this stuff at one point, and I'm sure a lot of other people didn't as well. So take it easy will ya?
      SilentDeftone
      ^ Just about every song ever made has harmonizing. Chords use harmony. Unless you have a simple melody with no 2 notes playing simultaneously, you're playing harmonies. -SD
      himurakenshin
      ^The fact that it explains well to beginners. If you already know enough about harmony, then don't bother reading this article and keep your mouth shut.
      don't get mad at me, but i'm just saying that in my opinion a article claming to be about harmonizing and then just saying "here are some intervals, go play with them and see which sounds good" just doesn't deserve 5 stars.
      SethMegadefan
      God dammit, himurakenshin, it's for beginners. Jesus, maybe part 2 will suit your picky needs for detail. In the meantime, why don't you read other peoples' comments for it; they seemed to think it was helpful so maybe you're the only one who's being bugged by this.
      JustinYap
      reli helpfull article... i gotta remember that... excellent article, 5 stars!!!
      Mace_37
      It is good, but I'd like to see more diverse examples. Possibly something acoustic. Does anyone have any suggestions for acoustic harmonization? PM them to me, thanks
      AnEpicAfterAll
      SethMegadefan: God dammit, himurakenshin, it's for beginners. Jesus, maybe part 2 will suit your picky needs for detail. In the meantime, why don't you read other peoples' comments for it; they seemed to think it was helpful so maybe you're the only one who's being bugged by this.
      i agree with himurakenshin, just because its for beginers doesnt mean it should be taught unclearly. its explaining intervals not harmonizing.if a root note and another note is put together it makes a sound ie minor 3rds, perfect 4ths,perfect 5th which, is a interval's proper name. its explaining why those are called what they are called, and its not a good job explaining that because the people who thought this was a good article most likely do not know why a perfect 5th is a perfect 5th. saying that "A" sounds good with "E" because its 7 semitones above the root note is common sense, all you have to do is count.
      SethMegadefan
      Well, then, AnEpicAfterAll, if this article was explained so unclearly, then why all the praise saying it was helpful?
      TheUltimateSin
      BillieJoefan108: CAN I SAY ALTHOUGH IT SHOULD NOT HAVE AFFECTED THE RATING OF THIS ARTICLE, WHAT IS THE NAME OF "YOUR" LANGUAGE, ENGLISH! SO STOP SPELLING OUR F*CKING WORDS WRONG!
      And that had what to do with this topic exactly?
      tearjerkerrhcp
      ok I think it was a good article but what about players that are completly selftought that dont know what keys are huh what then. I can play a lot of stuff but I just know what sounds good together soo have fun with complicated stuff hah.. Maybe I should get a book..
      jimmyjazz03
      thanx so much. Im very inexperienced w/ guitar and this will really help me keep the songs interesting.
      Strat_Monkey
      himurakenshin is an old woman.
      Maybe so, but he's also right, in most cases it would not be a good idea to harmonise entirely in thirds. MOST CASES, NOT ALL.
      elcapitanloco
      I can't believe this article got 5 stars.
      himurakenshin: bad article told nothing about harmonizing - just because something is in minor key you don't use minor thirds - it depends on the chords and the note. very bad and misleading/QUOTE] I couldn't agree more. This article wasn't about harmonizing, it was about a few basic intervals. People like this guy: landloader: can harmonizing be used with chords as well?
      will quickly find out how useless this article is; you can have major chords and major intervals in a minor key. 1 star. (but thanks to the scores of idiots who voted it 5, my vote has practically no impact)
      Spity90
      Ahh yes harmonizing, me and my band (shadows of war) came up with this idea (it was already thought of by the greats, bach, beethoven, haydn, mozart, vivaldi) basically we do the 2 violins effect and it sounds extremely nice gotta love it, 5 stars great article
      cap'nkirk
      well, I know two guitars is needed... but, It's also good to harmonize vocals with guitar, or even harmonize the bass with the guitar ;... good article though!
      /-Vince-\
      I thought Harmonizing was more like : C Major scale: C D E F G A B let's say your first note is C and you harmonize in minor third it would look like that: C > E, not Eb, because Eb isnt even in the scale!!!!!?????
      Cheesepuff
      I thought Harmonizing was more like : C Major scale: C D E F G A B let's say your first note is C and you harmonize in minor third it would look like that: C > E, not Eb, because Eb isnt even in the scale!!!!!?????
      Because you dont harmonize a minor third on the root note of a major mode. (According to the scale of C major) If it was A minor third then it would work because A is a natural minor in C major. But if it's C in C major then only major thirds would work. It's confusing I know but try learning chords and remember minor chords have a flattened 3rd.
      stefanHBHB
      I HAVE A QUESTION: USING A HARMONIZING PEDAL, WOULD I BE ABLE TO GET THE "AVENGED SEVENFOLD" SOUND??? -thanks to anyone who answers